Bowie seemed to adore “Fill Your Heart,” a collaboration between the hippie comedian Biff Rose and ’70s malignance Paul Williams: it was in his live sets by early 1970 and he led off the second side of Hunky Dory with it, his first cover song on record since “I Pity The Fool.”
Where the other Rose song Bowie covered, “Buzz the Fuzz,” was a hippie drug joke, “Fill Your Heart” is music for squares. It goes far beyond the realm of squares, really: it seems best suited to appeal to delusional old people, toddlers and good-tempered dogs. But you can see why “Fill Your Heart” entranced Bowie—its lyric offers comfort and peace (“fear is in your head/only in your head, so forget your head”), promising that the pain of consciousness can be alleviated by love, by losing yourself entirely in someone else. Lovers never lose, as the song goes.
Rose delivered those lines with the trace of a smirk, while Tiny Tim, who covered the song as the b-side of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” sang it with glee and amazement, as though he’d finally found a lyric that topped his own extravagant persona. Bowie, on Hunky Dory, is so committed to the song’s treacly philosophy that he descends into pure tastelessness—at times gurning like a gruesome holiday camp performer. In its way, “Fill Your Heart” is the most disturbing track on the record.
Mick Ronson does the light-orchestra arrangements (the LP sleeve credits the influence of Arthur G. Wright, who had arranged Rose’s recording), Rick Wakeman gets the showcase piano solo and Bowie provides the saxophone.
First performed at the BBC on 2 February 1970, and again on 21 September 1971; the Hunky Dory version, recorded ca. July-August 1971, was a last-minute addition to the LP, replacing “Bombers” (probably still the right call); Bowie opened his set at Aylesbury with it, on 25 September 1971.
Top: “Drunk NCOs, Osnabruck,” 1970.